Pascale Petit’s latest book is What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). The UK edition was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize and was a Book of the Year in The Observer. This collection contains poems in the voice of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. More than just a verse biography, it explores how Kahlo transformed trauma into art after the artist’s near-fatal bus accident. Petit trained at the Royal College of Art and spent the first part of her life as a visual artist before deciding to concentrate on poetry.

Since then she has published five collections, two others of which, The Huntress and The Zoo Father, were also shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and were books of the year in the Times Literary Supplement and the Independent. In 2004 the Poetry Book Society selected her as one of the Next Generation Poets. Petit is widely travelled, including in Mexico, the Venezuelan Amazon, China and Nepal and her poems have been translated into twenty languages. She lives in London, has worked as editor for Poetry London, and was a co-founding tutor of The Poetry School. She currently tutors for many organisations including Tate Modern where she leads poetry courses in the galleries. Website:  

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Myself and Señor Xólotl
When you came back to me –

I painted a green day-hand and a brown night-hand
holding up Mexico, her canyons and deserts,
    her candelabra cacti.

And we were there, embraced by our land.
You were my naked baby
who is reborn every minute with your third eye open.  

Even our dog Señor Xólotl was curled
on the wrist of evening,
ready to bear our souls to the underworld if he had to.

Together, we stared out beyond the picture, saw
in the dark window a small woman in a wheelchair
cast out in a workshop far beyond the moon,

desperately mixing the colours of love
    until they vibrated –
watermelon greens, chilli reds, pumpkin orange.

She hurriedly drew the shattered arms
of the universe –
                             holding us all up

as if we were a mountain dripping roots and stones.

From: What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren, 2010)

The Bus
I have not yet caught the bus, but we are all here
ready to play our parts: the housewife with her basket,
the barefoot mother nursing her child,
the boy gazing out the window just as later
he’ll stare through the smeared pane and catch
the tram’s advance, his eyes wide as globes.
The gringo holds his bag of gold dust.
I am next to him, sixteen, my body still
intact when the bag explodes and something
bright as the sun fills the air with humming motes
that stick to my splattered skin. Then the labourer
with his mallet will heave the silver post out of me.
His blue overalls are clean. He is not surprised to find me
alive. Here, in Coyoacán at the stop, where the six of us
wait on a bench side by side, just as we will sit
in the wooden bus, comrades in the morning of my life. 

From: What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren, 2010)

The Little Deer
Little deer, I’ve stuffed all the world’s diseases inside you.
Your veins are thorns

and the good cells are lost in the deep dark woods
of your organs.

As for your spine, those cirrus-thin vertebrae
evaporate when the sun comes out.

Little deer too delicate for daylight,
your coat of hailstones is an icepack on my fever.

Are you thirsty?
Rest your muzzle against the wardrobe mirror

and drink my reflection –
the room pools and rivers about us

but no one comes
to stop my bed from sliding down your throat.

From: What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren, 2010)

Pascale Petit Poet at Moonday Poetry - a Westside Reading

                                                                Photographer: Jemimah Kuhfeld

What The Water Gave Me - Poetry book with poems by Pascale Petit

© 2011 Pascale Petit

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